Asphalt Fumes

Asphalt is used for paving and surfacing roads, roofing, concrete work, and paints. It is made from petroleum products and is usually heated between 150-200 degrees F. Asphalt is often mixed with solvents (diesel, kerosene, naphtha, toluene, and xylene), binders, hardening and bonding agents (resins), crushed rock, sand, and recycled rubber.

Exposure to asphalt can cause the following serious health effects:

  • When heated, the fumes can cause coughing, a scratchy throat, or lung Irritation
  • Long term exposure can lead to bronchitis or emphysema.
  • Asphalt additives may create vapors that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system.
  • Hot asphalt can release hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) that can cause lung irritation, suffocation, or death.
  • Skin contact with hot asphalt can cause burns while absorbing the chemicals can lead to allergies and rashes.
  • Eyes can be irritated by asphalt fumes or if you touch them with dirty hands.

Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with asphalt.

  • Thermally insulated gloves prevent asphalt burns and stop solvents from soaking into your skin.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants or coveralls.
  • Safety glasses and a face shield protect your eyes and face.
  • Safety boots protect your feet. Tops should be at least 150 mm (6 inches) high and laced without openings.
  • Use respiratory protection to prevent overexposure to asphalt fumes.

How to Safely Avoid Asphalt Fumes

Asphalt Safety

  • Stay upwind of application areas and enclosing kettles and mixing operations.
  • Don’t stick your head over an open tank or kettle.
  • Avoid open stirring to prevent burns and overexposure to fumes.
  • Use your PPE. (IMPORTANT!!)
  • Wash your hands frequently and before you eat, drink, smoke, or use the restroom when using asphalt.

First Aid

Whenever a person is injured from exposure to asphalt fumes, cold asphalt, or hot asphalt, obtain first aid/medical attention immediately. To prevent the possibility of future medical complications, have the victim examined by a physician even if the injury does not appear to be serious.

Asphalt Fumes

  • Move victim to fresh air.
  • Administer oxygen if breathing is difficult.
  • Start artificial respiration if breathing stops.
  • Have victim examined by a physician.

Cold Asphalt

  • Remove cold asphalt from skin with waterless hand cleaner [warm mineral oil 43 °C (110 °F) can also be used].
  • Wash skin thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Remove contaminated clothing and shower victim at once.
  • Flush out contaminants from eyes for at least 5 minutes with water, lifting upper and lower eyelids occasionally.
  • Have victim examined by a physician.

Hot Asphalt

  • Apply cold water or ice pack to asphalt skin burns.
  • If burns cover more than 10 percent of body (about equal to surface of one arm or one half a leg) apply lukewarm water, or warmer if needed to alleviate pain, but heat in the asphalt must be removed as rapidly as possible.
  • Do not remove asphalt from skin.
  • Have victim examined by a physician

Review Questions

1. What are some of the health risks from exposure to asphalt fumes?

2. Why is it important to wear protective clothing when working with asphalt?